Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets

Journalism, Open Source Intelligence, and the Coming of the Civil War

by Michael Fuhlhage (Author)
©2019 Monographs XVIII, 276 Pages
Series: Mediating American History, Volume 16


Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets: Journalism, Open Source Intelligence, and the Coming of the Civil War reveals the evidence of secessionist conspiracy that appeared in American newspapers from the end of the 1860 presidential campaign to just before the first major battle of the American Civil War. This book tells the story of the Yankee reporters who risked their lives by going undercover in hostile places that became the Confederate States of America. By observing the secession movement and sending reports for publication in Northern newspapers, they armed the Union with intelligence about the enemy that civil and military leaders used to inform their decisions in order to contain damage and answer the movement to break the Union apart and establish a separate slavery-based nation in the South.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Section I. The Union’s Intelligence Void
  • Chapter 1. Introduction: News as an Intelligence Subsidy
  • Chapter 2. The Role of Actionable Intelligence on the Road to Fort Sumter
  • Chapter 3. Historical Context—Buchanan, Lincoln, and the Quandary of Southern Revolution
  • Chapter 4. The Varieties of Information and Intelligence During the Secession Crisis
  • Section II. Newspapers, Journalists, and the Emergent Secession Movement
  • Chapter 5. OSINT From Secessia: Actionable Intelligence From Southern and Border State Newspapers
  • Chapter 6. An Ad Hoc Secret Service: News Reporters Mobilize in the North
  • Section III. Newspapers as the Foundation of Open-Source Intelligence
  • Chapter 7. News Reporting as Actionable Information: How Unionist Authorities Used Information From the Press
  • Chapter 8. Conclusion: News and the Roots of Intelligence-Gathering Organizations
  • Epilogue
  • Historiographical Essay
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figure 3.1. Henry Jarvis Raymond, editor of the New York Times.

Figure 4.1. Newspapers and news networks.

Figure 6.1. John Bigelow, managing editor, New York Evening Post. Portrait by Mathew Brady, 1860s.

Figure 6.2. Charles Anderson Dana was the New York Tribune managing editor who assigned Albert Deane Richardson to report on the secession movement in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Figure 6.3. Albert Deane Richardson’s undercover reporting.

Figure 6.4. Albert Deane Richardson, New York Tribune undercover correspondent.


Table 2.1. Secession articles (N=3,079) by medium of origin, December 13–28, 1860.

Table 4.1. OSINT information sources about the secession movement, 1860–61.

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The literature on intelligence has been growing in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when terrorists launched attacks on the United States. As the American government considered how the attackers took the nation by surprise, observers pointed to warning signs in foreign news media that might have tipped them off if they had they been paying more attention. By 2003, the U.S. Army established an area known as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) as a separate intelligence discipline. The history of military intelligence stretches back as long as commanders have tried to exploit advance knowledge of the enemy. OSINT also has a history, but it has been largely unexamined. In the United States, that history begins in the secession crisis of 1860–61, but until now, no monograph to date has examined that history. This book explores the very beginnings of that history by examining how newspapers and journalists provided information to the potential combatants in the run-up to the American Civil War. With its focus on Unionists’ use of journalistic OSINT between President Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and Tennessee’s decision to become the eleventh and final member of the Confederate States of America in June 1861, this book is for several kinds of readers. These include people who are interested in antebellum sectional politics, U.S. history, presidential history, journalism and mass ← ix | x → communication history, information systems, surveillance, and military and political intelligence.

I arrived at this project through personal biography. The foundational myth of my home state is the triumph of the Kansas Free State movement. In junior high school, my classmates and I watched a musical theater production of The Ballad of Black Jack, a celebration of the history and heroes of the Border War. On one side were anti-slavery settlers from New England and its cultural outposts in the Midwest. On the other were Border Ruffians who crossed from Missouri into Kansas Territory to rig the vote and intimidate the enemies of slavery. We learned to cheer for the Free Staters and boo the Ruffians. At stake was the fate of freedom. If the Ruffians prevailed, they would install lawmakers who could be counted on to adopt a pro-slavery state constitution.

Initially, I didn’t set out to be a Civil War historian. Kansas was the center of my scholarly universe, and my period of interest was the recent past. My master’s thesis at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism examined a community newspaper’s representation of immigrants in a southwest Kansas meatpacking town. What started as a contemporary study of news production turned into a cultural history that situated the portrayal of migrant labor in the context of nearly a century of interactions between Anglos and the Mexicans who were recruited to farm sugar beets and repair railroads. My approach to media analysis in this book emerged from my examination of relationships between sources in Garden City, local journalists who were part of that community, and out-of-town reporters who witnessed to the world about the community. Those outside observers told that story through the lens of their prestigious news organizations, but they were received with the distance—even suspicion—evoked by their status as interlopers. The fact that the Garden City project concerned a multinational meatpacking company that required an international labor supply made that project fit neatly into scholarship of global systems. But the layers of news workers and varieties of journalistic products that I explored made that a study in the interaction between the practices and products of local news workers and those of regional and international news organizations. The media environment consisted of resident reporters who covered the situation every day, every week, over a number of years, and those sent by the Associated Press and United Press International news services who came only when episodic crises erupted.

The axis of my scholarly world shifted after I moved to the South and learned how our nation’s shared past was seen there. When I continued ← x | xi → graduate study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I intended to extend my thesis to scrutinize media representation of immigrant labor throughout the Southeastern United States in an area known as the New Latino South. It’s not possible to tell that story without understanding the nineteenth-century genesis of the often-stereotypical portrayals of Latinx people in news. Therefore, I searched the literature and found no one had yet unearthed that history. That history became my dissertation, and I became a nineteenth-century journalism historian. Because representation of Mexicans was rooted in the white-black racial binary of the master-slave relationships of the antebellum period, my academic gaze refocused on the politics of labor, race, and the American imperialist project of Manifest Destiny. If you stay on that part of the national timeline long enough, you inevitably run into political quarreling over extension of slave labor to the territories, the secession crisis, and the American Civil War. Thus, this book is the logical if tangential outgrowth of my fascination with race relations in the middle of the nineteenth century. I can hardly imagine anyone would have predicted that historical musical from my youth about the struggle against slavery would have led to this book.

Journalism history and sectional politics during the American Civil War are topics of enduring interest to historians, both professional and amateur. But in a review of the book that inspired this project, Edwin C. Fishel’s The Secret War for the Union, a New York Times critic noted that “in a field as intensely studied as the Civil War, the relative absence of sound scholarship on intelligence constitutes a glaring deficiency.”1 Academic and popular presses have overlooked that book’s combination of military history and the gathering of secret intelligence. Media historians have devoted volumes to coverage of editorials and the formation of public opinion as the war approached; no doubt the accessibility of primary sources in the form of newspaper editorials has made it easier to tell the story of editors’ attempts to shape public opinion. In comparison, the mechanics and mindset of news gathering about secession in 1860–61 are more difficult to document because doing so requires travel and time in scattered archives. As a result, books such as Louis Starr’s Bohemian Brigade and J. Cutler Andrews’ expansive volumes The North Reports the Civil War and The South Reports the Civil War devote mere sentences and paragraphs to secession reporting.2 This book is a step toward filling that gap.

Civil War journalism has drawn increasing attention from media historians in recent years, although scant attention has been paid to newsgathering—as distinct from opinion and editorials—in the run-up to the war. They include ← xi | xii → David Bulla and Gregory Borchard’s Journalism in the Civil War Era, Debra Reddin van Tuyll’s The Confederate Press in the Crucible of the Civil War, Lorman Ratner and Dwight Teeter’s Fanatics and Fire-eaters: Journalism and the Coming of the Civil War, and Ford Risley’s Civil War Journalism and Dear Courier.3 These recent monographs provide cultural approaches that complement the older social histories on the topic.

The scholarly books that are most similar to this project are Secret War for the Union, William B. Feis’ Grant’s Secret Service, and Ellen Gruber Garvey’s Writing with Scissors.4 By virtue of this book’s focus on newspapers as providers of information, it aims to complement Harold Holzer’s Lincoln and the Power of the Press, which examines the president’s use of newspapers, the dominant medium of their time, as means of using opinion to shape public sentiment.5 Secret War for the Union reveals how Union generals organized an effective military intelligence unit from a loose network of individual agents and how they acted on the resulting information. In doing so, they overcame a deficit with the Confederacy, which initially held the upper hand in the information war for a number of reasons. For one, Confederate forces were defending their homeland. Also, Southern leaders recognized OSINT’s importance earlier than the North. Of greatest importance during the secession crisis is the fact that they had the initiative as instigators of the rebellion and actively recruited knowledgeable people in the War Department to join the Southern cause. Reviews in the New York Times, the Journal of Southern History, and the Journal of Military History have praised Secret War for the Union as a ground-breaking book that revised orthodox interpretations of commanders and campaigns.

The major differences between this book and others are the time period and the focus on topics neglected by other scholars, namely the role of news and news work as an intelligence subsidy to civil and military authorities. Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets examines the secession crisis in 1860 through June 1861, whereas other studies of Civil War-era intelligence begin with the Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) in July 1861. In contrast, Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets emphasizes open source intelligence gathering by journalists and other civilians and its use by Northern political and military leaders to curtail the secession movement.

I argue that in the worlds of journalism and intelligence, information superseded opinion in importance during the secession crisis because acting on information became necessary to counter a phenomenon created by the firing-up of passions. Manipulation of public sentiment by secession’s promoters ← xii | xiii → brought on the crisis. To answer an opinion-fueled crisis required actionable intelligence based on facts in a time of peril to the nation when reliable information was scarce. This book is significant because it reveals how Northern newspaper correspondents provided actionable facts that Unionist leaders used to decide how to contain the crisis and prevent the Union from crumbling. To be clear, this book does not try to answer why the war happened in terms of the broader social forces that shaped the nation’s trajectory. Rather, it is concerned with material available in the press that informed Unionists and the role that information played in their answer to the secession crisis. Within communities and sections of the disrupted Union, partisan editors used content about secession that they poached from the telegraph and other newspapers to support their political benefactors’ editorial positions. But some editors strove to see through that filter bubble by sending reliable correspondents to investigate as the contagion of disunionism spread and communities organized to fight for Southern independence. Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets tells the story of those journalists.

| xv →


Books are labors of love, and the labors for this one were lightened by the friendship and support of many friends and colleagues. For their intellectual nourishment, friendship, and encouragement, I am especially indebted to Fred Vultee, Denise Vultee, Lee Wilkins, David Black, Gwyneth Mellinger, and Lisa Jo Bezner. Donald L. Shaw, Frank E. Fee Jr., David Bulla, and Debra Reddin van Tuyll offered bursts of encouragement and insight for which I am also thankful.

Classmates and professors at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who helped develop my skills and hone my thinking are too numerous to mention here, but I would be remiss if I did not thank by name professors Barbara Friedman, Fitz Brundage, William Barney, and Lucila Vargas at UNC and Earnest L. Perry Jr., Yong Volz, George Kennedy, Betty Winfield, and Don Ranly at Mizzou. Several graduate students at Wayne State assisted with the analysis of newspapers during the secession crisis; I thank Tabitha Cassidy, Keena Neal, Sarah Walker, Jade Metzger, Nicholas Prephan, Darryl Frazier, Scott Burgess, and Erika Thrubis for their hard and smart labors.

This book required numerous visits to widely scattered archives that would not have been possible without generous funding from the Office of the ← xv | xvi → Vice President for Research and the Office of the President at Wayne State University and the American Journalism Historians Association.

I also thank librarians and archivists at the following research institutions for helping me access a variety of nineteenth-century primary sources, from Army Headquarters records bound in faded red ribbons (the original red tape) to scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and microforms accessed via interlibrary loan: Wayne State University Libraries; Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation at Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester; Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Special Collections at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University; Houghton Library at Harvard University; Missouri History Museum; Missouri Historical Society; Special Collections at the University of Missouri-Columbia; American Antiquarian Society; the Manuscripts and Newspapers and Periodicals Reading Rooms at the Library of Congress; the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington and College Park, Maryland; Massachusetts Historical Society; the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division at the New York Public Library; the Boston Public Library; and the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library.

My highest gratitude I reserve for my father, Donald Fuhlhage, who raised me up a Jayhawk, tolerated my straying into the Missouri Tiger camp, and saw me wash myself of the bitterness of the Border War as a Tar Heel with the best of love and humor. This book is dedicated to you, Dad.


1. Garry W. Gallagher, “Spies, Patriotic Ladies and Gentlemen Who Contrived to Save the Union,” New York Times, August 19, 1996.

2. Louis Starr, Bohemian Brigade: Civil War Newsmen in Action (New York: Knopf, 1954); J. Cutler Andrews, The North Reports the Civil War (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1955); J. Cutler Andrews, The South Reports the Civil War (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970).

3. David Bulla and Gregory Borchard, Journalism in the Civil War Era (New York: Peter Lang, 2014); Debra Reddin van Tuyll, The Confederate Press in the Crucible of the Civil War (New York: Peter Lang, 2013); Lorman Ratner and Dwight Teeter, Fanatics and Fire-eaters: Journalism and the Coming of the Civil War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Ford Risley, Civil War Journalism (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012); Ford Risley, Dear Courier: The Civil War Correspondence of Editor Melvin Dwinell (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2018). ← xvi | xvii →

4. Edwin C. Fishel, The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence During the Civil War (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996); William B. Feis, Grant’s Secret Service: The Intelligence War from Belmont to Appomattox (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002); Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

5. Harold Holzer, Lincoln and the Power of the Press (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).


XVIII, 276
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVIII, 276 pp., 6 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Michael Fuhlhage (Author)

Michael Fuhlhage earned his PhD in mass communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his MA in journalism at the University of Missouri. He is an assistant professor at Wayne State University, where he teaches media history, news reporting, and editing.


Title: Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets
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